Lithium battery fire incidents are happening on planes at least once a week … but that may only be a fraction of the real number.
The Federal Aviation Administration in the USA has revealed there have been eight in just five weeks this summer – three in the space of just three days – and lithium battery fire containment bags have been used in some of the emergencies.
Fortunately, the world’s most widely-used lithium battery fire mitigation bag, the AvSax, is now on board around 16,750 aircraft operated by more than 100 airline companies.
So far in 2023 the FAA has recorded 30 incidents, which is around one a week.
The FAA is open in its reporting of such incidents whereas other organisations worldwide responsible for aircraft safety in their regions never publish the number of incidents they are seeing to the public.
The three incidents on consecutive days in the US happened on May 2, May 3 and May 4 with further incidents on May 9, May 21 and May 25.
Here are the incidents in detail as reported by the FAA.
May 2: United Airlines reports a thermal event occurred during flight when a passenger’s cellular phone fell into the passenger seat. The passenger notified the crew who assisted in the phone’s recovery from the seat. While moving the seat the phone was crushed and the damage caused charring of the phone which was placed in a thermal containment bag. The aircraft continued to its destination without further incident.
May 3: Delta Air Lines reports a passenger’s lithium battery portable power bank ignited and released smoke into the cabin during the flight while charging a cell phone. The flight crew safely secured the device, by cooling with water and securing in a thermal containment bag. Flight continued to destination without further incident.
May 4: Southwest Airlines reports a passenger’s checked bag containing a spare lithium battery caught fire on the ramp while being transported to the aircraft for loading. The bag had partially fallen off the baggage cart and was being dragged on the pavement causing the lithium battery in the bag to ignite. Ground handling personnel extinguished the fire and removed the lithium battery from the bag. The flight continued to its destination without further incident.
May 9: United Airlines reports a passenger’s personal electronic device fell into the seat. It was crushed when the passenger moved their seat during flight. This caused the device to become hot and emit smoke. Airline personnel safely secured the device in a thermal containment bag. The air carrier reported that the passenger suffered mild burns to their hands. The flight continued to its destination without further incident.
May 21: Federal Express reported a thermal event occurred during package sorting operations at its hub in Memphis, Tennessee. Ground personnel identified a burning odour emanating from a package. The package was recovered and found to contain a solar charging battery device that exhibited signs of burning and charring. Emergency personnel responded and cleared the package.
May 25: Spirit Airlines reported a thermal event that occurred upon arrival. The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, arrived at the gate and while passengers were deplaning the aircraft a carry-on bag containing six AA and AAA batteries with exposed terminals caught fire. The aircrew extinguished the fire and the remaining passengers exited the aircraft.
Throughout 2022 the FAA officially recorded 54 incidents and in just one month from June 22, 2022 to July 22, 2022 there were 10 incidents including three in just ONE day, July 22. Read more about this by clicking here.
The FAA warns: “These are lithium battery related events involving smoke, fire or extreme heat that the FAA is aware of and should not be considered a complete listing of all such incidents.”
The FAA started recording lithium battery fires in March 2006 and since then has recorded 451 incidents – mostly on passenger aircraft - involving 191 battery packs, 92 e-cigarettes or vapes, 56 mobile phones, 55 laptops, 55 other electronic devices and 2 medical devices.
In 2014 only 9 incidents were recorded by the FAA and 14 in 2015 which shows just how the number of incidents has increased alarmingly in recent years.
AvSax fire containment bags have been deployed in action on board aircraft dozens of times since 2017 and on every occasion the aircraft was able to continue safely to its destination with no need to divert or make an emergency landing.
Passengers routinely take hundreds of personal electronic devices such as mobiles phones, iPads and laptops on every flight on all airlines worldwide. All these devices are powered by lithium batteries and there is always a danger one could overheat, catch fire or even explode.
When a lithium battery overheats it goes into a chemical process called thermal runaway and when this happens one cell in a battery can produce enough heat – up to 900°C (1652°F) – to cause adjacent cells to overheat. This can cause a lithium battery fire to flare repeatedly and they are then very difficult to put out which is why it must go into a lithium battery fire containment bag as quickly as possible.
AvSax was devised and manufactured by Environmental Defence Systems Ltd based in Yorkshire, England, and won the Queen’s Award for innovation in the UK, the highest accolade any business can achieve.
For more information on AvSax go to www.avsax.com